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Words like 'dither' or 'vacillate' both suggest being unable to choose between A or B and never choosing either. Is there a word that means 'chooses A, then goes back on their decision and chooses B, then goes back on their decision again and chooses A and so on'?

Any suggestions greatly appreciated.


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+1 for dither and vacillate – Kit Z. Fox May 20 '11 at 13:06
If I could find it, the word that describes the shift between one enantiomeric isomer and the other in chemistry might suit. – Kit Z. Fox May 20 '11 at 13:13
@Kit: I'm no chemist, but are 'enantiomeric isomers' involved in changing the bottle of liquid blue / clear / blue? chemistry.about.com/od/chemistrydemonstrations/ss/… – FumbleFingers May 20 '11 at 17:41
@FumbleFingers I don't think so. I'm pretty sure that's an oxidation reaction. But I'm not a chemist either. – Kit Z. Fox May 20 '11 at 17:50

A word choice with little implication of lack of decisiveness is alternate:

The user alternated pressing the buttons A and B.

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This was my first thought also. – hippietrail May 20 '11 at 16:39
Obviously I'm in a minority here, but alternate sounds to me like an odd word to use here. Maybe that's because the derivative word alternative closely associates with 'choice', which is central to OP's context, whereas alternate generally only associates with 'toggle-switching' where choice isn't an option. – FumbleFingers May 20 '11 at 18:29

If you're a US politician the word is flip-flop.

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In Australian politics there is the "back flip" but it is not usually repetetive (-: – hippietrail May 20 '11 at 16:39

I think vacillate does imply actually making a choice, but repeatedly switching to the other position. So I'd use that anyway.

For less formal contexts, blow hot and cold, shilly-shally, chop and change all seem fine to me.

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In my house we say "wiffle-waffle" for this. I wouldn't call it standard. But I bet most readers would understand it.

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I'd suggest that perhaps tergiversate would be what you are looking for, with perhaps prevaricate and equivocate as other possibilities.

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You can use oscillate for that purpose. Think of an oscillating fan, swinging back and forth at a steady pace.

os·cil·late –verb (used without object)
1. to swing or move to and fro, as a pendulum does.
2. to vary or vacillate between differing beliefs, opinions, conditions, etc.: He oscillates regularly between elation and despair.
3. Physics . to have, produce, or generate oscillations.
4. Mathematics . (of a function, sequence, etc.) to tend to no limit, including infinity: The sequence 0, 1, 0, 1, … oscillates.

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This is the perfect word for the alternating part but I can't think of ever hearing it applied to a person - it sounds too mechanical to me. – hippietrail May 20 '11 at 16:41

I guess fluctuate is what you're looking for.

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I propose waver and yo-yo.

I think that it would be easier to answer this kind of question with an example sentence.

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